Festivals Making Their “Marks” on the Music Biz


“Well I came upon a child of God; he was walking along the road.” Woodstock by Joni Mitchell

USA Today reports that three-day passes to Coachella, the mega music festival taking place this weekend and next in a California valley, are commanding nearly $3,000 on the secondary market—more than $2,500 over face value. There’s a reason music fans and other revelers snapped up tickets for both weekends in a matter of hours when they went on sale in January. Coachella is more than just a parade of bands and singers. And indeed, tickets go on sale—and then are gone—before the festival lineups even are announced. So while the prospect of seeing today’s “it” band mingling with yesterday’s legacy acts no doubt fuels the ticket frenzy, it’s the event itself—symbolized by the name, that’s the main attraction for Coachella, its east coast counterpart Bonnaroo, and the scores of other festivals that will dot the concert landscape from April to October. These festivals and others have become brands, and the branding of music festivals is becoming big business transforming the face of the music business itself. Going or gone are the days when most artist tour to promote a new record; today, more often than not, artists put out new records to be in the running for a coveted spot on the festival touring circuit. Playing in front of captive audiences in the tens of thousands sure beats playing in front of a few hundred fans at a smaller club or listening room. This seismic shift has as much to do with festivals like Coachella becoming recognized brands as it does with the quality of the actual performances that grace the multiple stages that are the hallmarks of these mega-festivals. Each of the major summer festivals is immediately identifiable through a distinctive logo, and each nurtures its own unique brand identity. Coachella has its “chill” California desert Spring vibe, while Bonnaroo, set in a dusty field south of Nashville, is known for its grungy, gritty, tent-city terrain and whimsical stage names—“This Stage, That Stage, What Stage, and Which Stage.” And they each have their own visual image to go with their distinctive vibes, as shown above with the Coachella logo.

All of this is a far cry from the grand parent of all music festival, Woodstock, with its late-60s counter-culture innocence and lack of overt commercialism. 45 years after Wavy Gravy roused the “half-a-million” strong on Yasgur’s farm, big advertisers are as eager to be part of these festivals as are the big bands that headline them. Budweiser, in fact, has a festival of its own, called “Made in America” and curated by Jay Z. And social media contributes hugely to promoting each of these distinctive festival brands.
So this summer, if you’re looking for a weekend’s diversion that promises plenty of music, fresh air, sun, perhaps rain and mud, but unquestionably a chance to be part of a community of like-minded compatriots that is intensely real for 48 hours-then, check out a music festival. Chances are, you’ll buy a lot of branded merchandise and be back next year.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Describing Woodstock as the ‘big bang,’ I think that’s a great way to describe it, because the important thing about it wasn’t how many people were there or that it was a lot of truly wonderful music that got played.” David Crosby

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